Wednesday, 28 August 2013

David Byrne & St Vincent - Roundhouse 27.08.2013

David Byrne, St Vincent  and a whole lotta brass.

The Roundhouse is rammed solid. There's a real buzz of expectation in the air.

David Byrne's disembodied voice politely requests that people refrain from recording and taking photos and watching the show 'through their iPads'. The crowd whoops its approval of these sentiments - and then proceeds to take no heed of his words at all.

This the 'Love This Giant' tour, just David Byrne, St Vincent (aka Annie Clark) and a large brass ensemble performing tracks from the album of the same name plus selections from their respective back catalogues.

The brass sound is impressive- a dozen musicians each specialising in a different instrument. These range from the familiar such as the slide trombone and the French horn, to the vast bass sousaphone, which lends a mighty 'oompah' to proceedings.

David Byrne, his hair white and wild, looks like a Victorian evangelist in a sombre suit (although he soon strips down to white shirt and braces). Annie Clark has dyed her hair blonde and is clad in black. This gives the early songs something of the air of a temperance meeting, with the brass as doleful as a Salvation Army band.

The section of the crowd around me behaves abominably throughout. Aside from the aforementioned tendency to record everything, despite being so far away from the stage that the exercise is completely futile, they use the St Vincent-led numbers to talk loudly to each other or go to the bar or bathroom. It's very depressing.

This audience of fifty somethings are basically here for David Byrne and even then only if he does Talking Heads stuff. It causes a friction when the artist is more radical than his audience.

Byrne first departs from the LTG material to sing 'Strange Overtones' from his previous collaboration with Brian Eno. The band parps solemnly along.

To my ears, this is a problem with much of tonight's music - unless in full-on swing mode, the brass accompaniment mainly seems gloomy and wistful, rendering it difficult to build any kind of sustained momentum in the set. It's all a bit sombre.

At later points in the evening we get versions of 'This Must be the Place (Naïve Melody) and a rare outing for Byrne's unexpected dance hit with X-Press 2 'Lazy'. The latter features some elaborate choreography and becomes a kind of church-y Sunday School hoedown.

Annie Clark is equal partner in tonight's enterprise. She has a fascinating guitar style which involves slapping at her instrument as though trying to extinguish a fire. Her highlight is a terrific version of 'Lightning', her shadow silhouetted on the big screen behind the players. She can also match Byrne’s robotic dancing, scuttling around the stage like a little automaton, or engaging him in a theremin duel during ‘Cruel’.

The band show great versatility in switching from jazz to funk to American marching band with alacrity. However, as noted above, a whole evening of this music becomes a little samey - and you can't quite escape the feeling that this veers into novelty territory, like Senor Coconut doing salsa versions of Kraftwerk, or Richard Cheese performing gangsta rap in a lounge style.

The encores give the audience what they came for, including a rousing version of 'Burning Down the House' which is much the best thing of the night and a slightly anaemic finale of 'Road to Nowhere'.

It's been rather a curate's egg of a show.  David Byrne and St Vincent will separately move on to other projects. The great thing about them is that they are happy to try new things - it would be good if they could take their fans along with them.


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Shonen Knife BBQ Party at Brixton Windmill - 17 August 2013

Shonen Knife (pic Annie Lesser)

The weather is classed as 'changeable', which is not normally a concern when attending a gig, but this is not your usual Saturday afternoon outing.

I arrive at the London institution that is the Brixton Windmill to join in what is billed as 'Shonen Knife BBQ Party'.

We start off by paying respects to Roof Dog and head in. A band is making noise but turn out to be merely sound checking. We head out to the tiny concrete garden in back.

Shonen Knife are dispensing meat from a barbeque. They are brightly and identically dressed in exquisite yukata-mode mini-suits. We say hello and enjoy a tasty feast.

Over the course of the afternoon and early evening we get three support bands. None of them are unalloyed successes, but there are some flashes of interest.

Echolocation are an eclectic lot, featuring amongst other members a flat capped geezer declaiming Mark E Smith style cut up lyrics and a red-haired girl manipulating a similarly coloured electric cello. There's a trumpeter and various others in there as well somewhere. The songs are long, slow jams that gradually build in intensity but which never quite manage to deliver.

Passerines have two excellent singers whose voices are fine when employed separately but which rather clash when they attempt to harmonise. Hiro Toshi from Smallgang (playing later tonight) has a low, rich gravelly growl, while Katie has a pure, high folk voice, best showcased on a song that begins with a line that sounds uncommonly like "That chestnut tree looks demented". I like this more than I would have thought.

Former Utopia are celebrating their 100th gig. Good on them.

The crowd then congregates to the front of the tiny stage. After a brief hiatus Shonen Knife appear, waving their trademark scarves above their heads and squeaking with glee.

What follows is an hour of pure pop joy as the band blast out a set of Ramonsey rainbow rock with a food theme. We get 'Sushi Bar'. We get 'Blue Oyster'. We get 'Rock' n' Roll Cake'.  They even gambol through 'BBQ Party', which is especially apt.

Naoko Yamano engages with the happy throng in front of her like a benevolent mother, while bassist Ritsuko Taneda beams from ear to ear and leaps from side to side of the stage. Behind them, drummer Emi Morimoto whoops and jumps up and down.

The audience enthusiastically joins in with the dance routines, never more so than during a climatic version of '(I wanna go to) An All You-Can Eat' which features members of Smallgang corralled onstage to provide extra vocals and kazoo assistance.

As the girls leave, its still early, but I'm exhausted. I never knew so much fun could be this tiring!

The B-52's at IndigO2 - 16 August 2013

The B-52's (Kate Pierson giving it some welly)

I head to the O2 via a boat down the Thames. It is a silly (and expensive) conceit, but there's something undeniably thrilling about approaching the venue in this fashion.

After staying perhaps a little too long in a hospitable riverside inn I wander into the vastness of the Dome itself.

This is the first time that I've been to Indigo, the small 'club' venue that dwells in the shadow of the O2 Arena proper.

The room has been expertly designed on the same lines as show spaces within Las Vegas hotels. There are no slot machines, but sight lines are clear, sound quality is good and there is the illusion of approachability.

The support band are in the final throes of their set. Surprisingly, it turns out that these are punk pioneers The Members, now down to a three piece and older than death.

Despite looking like Methuselah's grandparents, they rattle along with great vim. Even back in the day, they were principally known for a single song and when they finish tonight with an epic clatter through 'Sound of the Suburbs', it sounds wonderful, a truly classic piece of music.

I head to the bar and find myself stood next to a guy dressed as a lobster. A rock lobster. There's quite a few folk who have dressed up tonight, happy to leave their dignity at the door in tribute to the B-52's, one of the greatest party bands to ever cut a rug.

Now down to a trio of original members (guitarist Keith Strickland doesn't tour anymore), Fred Schneider, Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson are ably assisted by an extremely well schooled backing band.

The set starts with 'Planet Claire', Kate Pierson a vision in red, warbling like a human theremin.

It's hits all the way and it extraordinary how contemporary and fresh everything sounds. The B-52's have been often unfairly dismissed as a novelty act because of their unabashed and unapologetic emphasis on fun and day-glo colours. But the music is clipped, stripped down and sparse, with no extraneous embellishment, just pure dance rhythm.

Great tune follows great tune - 'Mesopotamia', 'Roam', a terrific '6060-842', 'Private Idaho', - we dance this mess around, the party out of bounds.

Fred does his snarky comments, Cindy gets a big solo number and Kate is a sashaying, shimmering crimson phenomenon.

Oddly, the only track that falls even slightly short of greatness is 'Love Shack', which feels a little underpowered this evening.

That's a tiny caveat. This is an easy home win of a gig and everyone, on stage and off, looks to be having a great time.

Although I've always loved them, this is the first time that I've ever seen the B-52's. I'm so glad to rectify this.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Cold Cave and Natural Assembly at Electrowerkz - 08 August 2013

Wesley Eisold (Cold Cave)

It's like riding a bicycle. You never forget. It's over six weeks since I last saw a gig and I almost wonder if I've grown out of it.

Fortunately, I take to the late night and hard rhythms like cats take to the internet.

Electrowerkz is as dark and angularly forbidding as ever. It's mottled with graffiti and appears to be passing itself off as the hold of a 'Nostromo' type space ship. It's a good look, although you feel that you would need a tetanus shot if you cut yourself.

There is so much theatrical mist and opaque lighting onstage that it is unclear (literally) whether the support band are performing or not. However, when Natural Assembly arrive there is no room for doubt.

The pair are clad in the dark, vaguely militaristic garb of a legion of industrial bands. It's the Henry Ford School of Rock- any colour you like, as long as it's black. We're in safe hands.

This is a classic electronic sound dating back to the very early Eighties. The beats are simple but harsh, there’s a mistrust of complexity and everything rumbles along like the motor on a giant refrigerator.

Singer Jesse Cannon prowls through the murk. He's not got an obviously melodious voice, but rather sing/shouts as though he was bawling abuse after a departing taxi. It suits the music.

Natural Assembly are roughly hewn, but they have recognisable songs and a winning enthusiasm. They sort of remind me of Visage but without an iota of pretention or foppery. Good for them.

In some respects I could almost repeat the same remarks in relation to headliners Cold Cave.

Once again the music is firmly referencing the early days of what would become the industrial/electronic sound. Wesley Eisold and Amy Lee are going right back to first principles, to the days when the Cure were pedalling Pornography and jackets were leather and covered in studs.

Wesley Eisold cuts a dash onstage. Right from the off, he's crashing around with such fierce abandon that for a second I think that he's drunk. He's not, he's just so awkward and committed that he's forever getting entwined with his mike stand or stumbling across in the gloom to bash at a few buttons or consult with Lee. He's both tough and weirdly vulnerable at the same time.

The music blasts and thrums like a runaway train. You can hear the squeal of complaining machinery in every note, every jack hammer beat.

Although mostly as rigidly black and white and stark as all industrial music, there are flashes of light. Literally so when for one song the stage is gradually lit with the image of bright yellow sunflowers and Eisold is illuminated in the golden glow.

For me the big moment of the night comes with 'Icons of Summer' with its refrain of "I can't Keep Falling Down". There's real anguish and frustration here and it’s a great track.

I'm back on the gig beat again and I won't be away as long again. Cold Cave and Natural Assembly are an excellent way to get start.